Vanessa Peters provides superb, enigmatic folk-rock on ‘Little Films’


Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Vanessa Peters & Ice Cream on Mondays/Little Films

Equipped with a quirky name that would make me assume they’re another ’80s New Wave revival, Vanessa Peters & Ice Cream on Mondays are actually a superb folk-rock act with intelligent, poetic lyrics. Now you may not understand the meaning of Peters’ lyrics initially, but they seem to open up after repeated listens. Like Suzanne Vega in her early years, Peters loves to write enigmatic lyrics. Fortunately, the music isn’t bogged down by the cryptic nature of her words unlike Vega’s debut album in the mid-’80s which, for the most part, found itself wallowing in her pretentiousness. Her band, Ice Cream on Mondays, keeps the songs loose and melodic, pushing them with chiming guitars and Americana touches here and there.

“I dreamed last night that I lost the first vampire I ever loved/To the cold and snow of Michigan,” Peters sings on “Anti-Hero,” putting a supernatural twist on unrequited romance. It’s a prime example of how Peters, as a songwriter, cannot be pegged; she goes her own way, and we are her willing passengers, grooving to the beat of her ice creams while seriously engaged in the wild tales she is sharing with us.

Published in: on January 30, 2008 at 6:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Jenny Gunn combines quirky poetry with left-of-center folk


Reviewed by Jessica Shearer

Jenny Gunn/One Thousand Words

Jenny Gunn can be best described as a poet with a guitar. Although her songs are melodic and catchy at times, she is not a pop musician. In fact, it may even take you a couple of spins to really appreciate her quirky songcraft. Given the lack of adventurous female singer/songwriters lately (blame it on the music industry that continues to ignore most everything that isn’t male and angst-ridden), it might be hard to compare Gunn to anybody in the indie scene at the moment. Well, that’s certainly welcome considering how much we are in need of original talent.

Gunn has her own vision, one that doesn’t compromise to, or perhaps even mesh with, commercial ideals. On “Daffodil Girl,” Gunn sings, “The powers that be say/Conform/Follow the norm,” and from the beginning Gunn is standing her ground. Robbie Anderman’s flute gives “Daffodil Girl” a soothing quality that softens the edges of Gunn’s pointed lyrics. “REM Man” is not about Michael Stipe but rather escaping through dreams; its downtempo guitars, however, could’ve fit onto R.E.M.’s moodier fare. The spoken word piece, “Bigger Faster Stronger,” has Gunn continuing to push the envelope of folk music.

It’s an acquired taste, but One Thousand Words does stay with you and is refreshingly left of center from what you normally hear on the radio.

Published in: on January 27, 2008 at 2:33 am  Comments (1)  

Legal Tender’s Eric Davenport rocks out with ‘tight, hook-laden power-pop record’

Reviewed by Jessica Shearer

Legal Tender/Carbon McCartney

If Legal Tender were actually a band, they’d probably find no place here as much as I adore Carbon McCartney. However, Legal Tender is simply the name of the project from singer/songwriter Eric Davenport. Although he does employ extra musicians such as drummer Tony Hart and back-up vocalist Jennifer Keenan, this is Davenport’s baby, his labor of love. Davenport nearly does everything here, and shockingly it sounds like a band effort, a tight, hook-laden power-pop record that looks to the late ’60s and early ’70s for a creative charge.

Davenport mines a handful of nearly extinct genres here from Beatles-styled guitar rock to glam to psychedelia to AM radio pop. The production frees itself from the artificial slickness and audio distortion of today’s recordings for a much clearer and classic-sounding mix. You can actually hear each instrument separately; they don’t blur together in the songs, lost in a maze of white noise. The tunes rent shelf space in your head for weeks; that’s how memorable they are, especially “Hey Little Girl” and “Windy.”

Published in: on January 21, 2008 at 4:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Veteran touring musician Jim Hurst wows with his bluegrass picking

Reviewed by Jessica Shearer

Jim Hurst/Open Window

Bluegrass guitarist/singer Jim Hurst has one of the most impressive resumes you’ll ever see from an unsigned artist. Having performed with country superstars such as Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, and Holly Dunn, Hurst is no greenhorn. That he has remained relatively unknown to the mainstream country world is not his fault but the lousy corporate machinations that has prevented this vibrant talent from being exposed to a larger audience.

If you don’t think that country radio has become a shadow of itself, listen to Open Window and hear what has been denied you the past couple of years. Combining original country songs with instrumentals and covers, Open Window doesn’t take the safe road; it is proudly eclectic with Hurst remaining true to his roots without any superficial turns for the sake of a buck. For purists and old-school country fanatics, this is a goldmine. The lovelorn “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles” transforms James Taylor’s folksy kiss-off into a vintage bluegrass number with impressive, mesmerizing guitar picking. The man simply lets his fingers rip, plucking each string with a surgeon’s skill and a magician’s sense of wow. On “Wheel Hoss” and “A Minor Infraction,” Hurst will leave you breathless and stunned with his dynamic playing.

Oddly enough, my favorite track is “I Can Tell You the Time,” a Gospel track with warm barber-shop harmonies as Hurst proves that he is versatile enough to color beyond the blue of bluegrass and the blues.

Published in: on January 12, 2008 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Frankie Cleary’s new EP “more satisfying” than most LPs

Reviewed by Jessica Shearer
Frankie Cleary/The Six Year Getaway 
While The Six Year Getaway is less than half an album, it’s more satisfying than many of the full-length recordings you hear today, which attempt to fulfill consumers with one or two smash tracks. Of the four tunes on Frankie Cleary’s EP, at least three are permanent keepers and the fourth, the acoustic finale “The Being of Me,” isn’t bad, either.
Arriving from the nowheresville of Port Orchard, Washington, Cleary touches upon the sensitive singer/songwriter route but with a seemingly optimistic and not whiny perspective. The best of these, “On My Own,” is vibrant, life-affirming rock. “On My Own” seems to have a spiritual context, and one can easily see Cleary venturing completely into CCM territory with his powerful and emotionally uplifting vocals. “Different Side” will get stuck in your head for days; it’s extremely catchy stuff.
Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 12:09 am  Leave a Comment